Bill Pronzini,
(Forge, 2006)

Mourners is another installment in Bill Pronzini's Nameless Detective series, called that because the lead detective's name is not divulged. The books typically take place in the San Francisco Bay area, and this one is no exception.

James Troxell attends the funeral of a young woman who died violently, but Troxell has no connection whatsoever with the dead woman. Then he attends another funeral, again of a young woman who died violently and, again, he has no connection with the woman -- and the two women have no connection with each other. Troxell's habit continues, with as many as three funerals per week. A serial mourner?

The rest of the time, Troxell leads a successful, seemingly content life with a good, lucrative job and a caring wife -- but she, her friend Sean Casement and her lawyer are all becoming increasingly concerned about James. He misses whole days at work and disappears for several hours on two evenings each week. The obvious suspicion is that he's having an affair, and Mrs. Troxell hires a private investigator to find out. Of course, it's the Nameless Detective and his new assistant, Jake Runyon.

As they watch and follow and explore the past of James Troxell, Nameless and Jake discover his strange "hobby" but can find no evidence of any connection to any of the dead women whose funerals he attends. But they do discover, eventually, why he is driven to attend these funerals, and that discovery leads to a murder investigation -- and another investigation altogether.

When Pronzini writes, the characters are not cardboard cut-outs. Troxell is a strange man who is gradually crumpling beneath a secret. His wife is very caring and bright, but possibly somewhat naive. Nameless is a hero-type, but not because of any particularly extraordinary trait save for his doggedness. Jake Runyon differs from Nameless in a few ways, yet they are also birds of a feather.

One of the main side-stories in Mourners is about the wife of the Nameless Detective, Kerry. Nameless and Kerry are very much in love, are very open with each other and have adopted a teenage girl, Emily. But, Nameless and Emily have both noticed that Kerry has become irritable and guarded, and she does not look well. She denies any problem, or gets evasive, but it is not getting better. The unraveling of this personal mystery adds a human touch to the story.

Another side-story is about Tamara, the detective agency's technical investigator. Tamara follows money trails, digs into records and finds evidence via the computer. But she has also shifted into a chronically grumpy mood and will not discuss it, or even admit to anything being there to discuss. Kerry and Tamara are dealing with very different issues, but bother are realistic characters struggling to cope with problems that many people encounter.

The Nameless Detective novels are quick reads and they are fast-paced. They feature a good mixture of quiet suspense and action sequences, with credible, three-dimensional characters. Mourners is a good example of the series, and its mystery is not run-of-the-mill. Did the main character do anything wrong at all? Why is Troxell behaving this strangely if not out of guilt for a horrible deed in his past? Will Nameless and Jake Runyon get to the bottom of it all? If something awful did occur, will the culprit be identified? And, what is wrong with Kerry and Tamara? These questions do get answered, but only after a lot of digging, but that digging never gets dull or plodding.

review by
Chris McCallister

2 May 2009

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